Yes, I’m a Television Junkie

IMG_20150423_084435479I love all those noble people (I’m sure some of you are in that category!) who don’t have time for TV, or just eschew it as not being worthy. That is so not me. Not anymore. I actually used to be one of the “no time” people. Ten years ago, I watched, like, Friends or whatever and a couple of striking shows like John Doe. I didn’t have time for more because I was working full time and had an infant who was with me at work all day and a 4-year-old and night was for writing.

Then Lost happened. Actually, Lord of the Rings happened, and I was obsessed with everything about it, and Dominic Monaghan got a role on Lost so I tried it, and got HUGELY hooked (I mean, like, daily message board lurking with the writers of the show kind of hooked). And I never looked back.

Lost-like TV doesn’t really exist anymore, except for the part where everything is like Lost. Okay, not exactly, but there’s a lot of complex television, with high-stakes, well-written, well-acted shows. Stuff you want to talk about with your friends after you watched it. Or just stuff you can’t wait until next week to see. Shows you didn’t try when they first came on, but binged a whole season on in one weekend (or three seasons in half a summer).

TV is my go-to destressor. I still read a LOT, but TV is more effective at getting me out of my work zone and allowing me to sleep without dreaming about work. (Dreaming about work SUCKS.) And TV gives me so much as a writer. I do resent that an actor can make a tiny facial movement and convey a slew of emotions, when I struggle to write it. But a lot of my success with pacing, characterization, and impact comes from TV.

So what am I liking this fall, and what am I not? Here are a few random takeaways.

A romantic slow burn works best when stakes are high.

Fitz-Simmons on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD kill me just about every week. They are a scientific team of the most adorable genius geeks ever. Fitz had a crush on Gemma (Simmons) but was way too shy to tell her…until the end of season 1, when they were in a tank under water and about to die. Gemma got Fitz to safety, but he almost died and ended up with brain damage. So her figuring out her feelings was complicated in season 2 by Fitz trying to recover, being frustrated, and feeling rejected. When they finally reached a point where they were ready to try this romance thing, Gemma got sucked into a big monolith and disappeared. Enter Badass Fitz, who will do ANYTHING to find and save her. His strength has been balanced by his pain. He risks his life to save her from an alien planet, where she’s been hunted for months, and now she has PTSD and…some secret reason she needs to go back. See? Stakes. And emotions you could drown in.

Compassionate men are very hot.

Limitless is about a guy who hasn’t made much of his life. A friend gets him to take this drug that lets him access his entire brain while he’s on it. But it has horrible withdrawal (to death) unless he gets a special shot. A senator will supply him with the shot if he takes an offered position at the FBI and commits treason, basically. And his family is threatened if he doesn’t fall in line. So it’s a crime show with side intrigue. When he’s on the drug, he’s like the smartest guy alive. But that’s tempered by how much he really cares about people, even a kid trying to save his brother-the-terrorist. His emotions are believable and the obstacles to his attempts to do the right thing are compelling. You can imagine yourself as him.

Side applause to Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, aka The Flash, showing us that superheroes can cry without giving up any strength.

Complex plots done well are HARD.

We all know this, whether we’ve tried to write a crime thriller featuring a dozen people with intertwining secrets or not. Minority Report has tried. But the writers haven’t quite managed to give us people we can care about. Part of that might be stiff acting (which could be a problem with direction), but I find myself not caring about the mysteries they’ve tried to present.

Quantico, on the other hand? I want to watch this show every day of the week. It’s a PERFECT example of giving characters very interesting backstories and motivations but only doling them out bit by bit. The characters are types, but they’re given enough depth that they feel real. And make me overlook—nay, outright dismiss—the silliness of that many people having that many buried reasons for doing what they do.

So how about you? Are you a TV watcher? What are you loving right now, and if you’re a writer, what has it taught you?